Sunday, December 28, 2008

Nellie Has Puppies!...Many, Many Puppies...

Nellie was a dog that came to be at the farm the way most of our dogs came - Christian or Fred went to the dog pound and rescued an animal! Usually there would be something about the animal that "spoke" to them, that appealed to one or more of their senses. They must have had a cold the day they picked Nellie because she was a smelly hound dog. We nicknamed her Smelly Nellie! She was as sweet as she was smelly and we all loved her! When we learned she would have puppies I, for one,was very excited...I could hardly wait for the big day and it was a certainty that I would be in the barn when it happened.

Nellie was a black and tan hunting dog who enjoyed running in the woods and through the long grass. She could go very fast and was really a true hound dog. She had the longest ears and when she ran through the grass all you could see was the flopping ears over the tops of the grasses. She had a voice that one could only compare to an opera singer's soprano; piercing, projecting and full of wonderful and varied tones. She loved the farm, not so much the farm animals but the space to roam free. Our dogs were never on a leash on the farm. The one thing that Nellie really disliked was water, not to drink, but to run through. In fact, if she came to water she would not run through it - she would stand and whine until someone helped her across. This made it difficult - no, let me correct that - impossible to bath her which only added to the smelliness of Nellie! Nellie was so smelly that when we took her to the vet, people around us would get a particular expression on their faces and move far away from her.

Nellie's puppies were close to arriving and I was sick with the measles - how awful - I was devastated. I asked my Mother if I could go to the barn to be with Nellie and she said "Absolutely not! You have a fever and you must stay in bed!" I begged and pleaded with her, but the more I begged the more she stood her ground and the further away it seemed my chances of seeing the newborns would be... Nellie had chosen a place in the barn to have her puppies, a place I knew very well and if I couldn't go there then I wouldn't get to see the newborns for a long while...Father said that the puppies could not be moved until their mother was ready to move them and there I was, stuck in bed. I was actually very sick and only felt like sleeping most of the time but my heart was breaking over the distance between me and the puppies once I heard that they had , in fact, arrived safely, all six of them.

One Saturday morning, soon after the puppies arrived my brother Fred came into my room where I was resting in bed, the grip of measles now slowly leaving my body. I was starting to feel a little better. I thought Fred was coming to bring me a drink of orange juice or ginger ale or to play a game of cards with me, but, the real reason for his visit was much, much better than any of that! He came into the room with his barn coat still on. That was strange since it was nice and warm inside - the wood stove was roaring with heat. He pushed the door closed a little so Mother's watchful eye would not take in what he was concealing. He sat down on the bed with me and motioned that I had to be quiet by putting his index finger to his lips and uttering a very quiet "shhhh". ... then he slowly and carefully pulled the littlest, furry creature I had ever laid eyes on from his jacket and said "here have a look, and you can pet her gently, but she can't stay because I have to bring her back before Nellie misses her too much." I was too excited for words...she was so precious, so tiny and so black. Her ears were tiny flaps of soft skin and her eyes were not open yet, she was so soft. She had the tiniest nose and nostrils the size of the holes in a button - she was a perfect little puppy and, oddly enough, she didn't smell bad! She was a little less than three days old.

When Fred left to take her back to the barn and her mother, I was content. He gave me the best gift ever that day. I knew that soon I could visit the puppies any time I wanted and it would be often!

Mother Is Baking Bread....

On the farm there were so many wonderful experiences for children; some were daring and a little dangerous; some taught humility, patience and reason; some were strenuous and tiring, and some were down right delicious. Mother was a wonderful cook and baker and worked hard every day to make healthy meals for the family; her five children and her husband, my Father.

She was particularly adept at baking homemade bread. The process was a long one and involved a pinch of this and a shake of that and there was never a cookbook in sight. I loved to "help". Sitting on a stool in the country kitchen and watching the flour and the other dry ingredients get mixed while the yeast was growing, bubbling and turning in warm milk in another bowl was a very pleasent experience indeed. It included chatting with Mother about the pets, the day ahead and just anything that popped into my head. The contents of the two bowls came together into the biggest bowl I have ever seen, then or now! It had to be big - there were many of us who wanted to eat the bread and the buns that were the result of this work. They were so good with the fresh butter and the jam that Mother also made from the fruit growing on various bushes and trees around us on the farm. All this, accompanied with fresh, rich and natural cow's milk to drink, was truly delicious.

Once the mixtures came together the batter had to be kneaded, not once - but twice with a rest period in between to allow the dough to rise. I can still remember my mothers' gentle hands, pulled into fists and unrelenting at this work. She used to say that the bread would only be good if one was not lazy anout the kneading. Mother worked this magic in one of the two kitchens on the farm - one used in winter and one used in summer. My favorite place was the summer kitchen because the two big screen doors at either end would let the summer spill into the house. Fresh air, and sounds of birds and other farm animals, flowed in as a wonderful backdrop to the chatter of Mother and I baking bread. While the dough was rising we would go outside and check the garden for vegetables or we would do a little cleaning in the house; make the beds or dust the wood that seemed to be everywhere in the old farmhouse.

The dough was ready. It had risen a second time and now it could be formed into whatever we wanted; braided bread, loaf pan bread, or large dinner rolls. The forming meant that the big kitchen table had to be dusted with flour, so that the dough would not stick to the surface - there seemed to be flour everywhere, on the table, in the pan, on Mother's apron, and her hands and on my nose somehow...I realize now how hard it must have been for her to work on the kitchen table, bent over, straining her back. In those days everything happened on the kitchen table - there were no counter tops in the farmhouse kitchen.

The row of pans, laden with the dough formed into it's intended shape and risen in place one final time, could soon be popped into the oven. This was not an oven like we have today where electricity drives the heating element. No it was a big wood stove. It was twice the size of today's stoves, where water, for tea, could boil on top; where water, for bathing or washing dishes, could heat in a large reservoir on the side; and where wood had to be fed into round, covered holes the size of dinner plates on the top of it. This wood heat was ideal for baking bread - it was not too hot and it was evenly distributed in the large square cavity, that opened on the front, that was the oven. The wood stove was not a place for children to be too near. It was hot on almost every surface. It radiated heat into the room as well. As the bread was baking, the wonderful smells and the radiating heat were very soothing indeed and made the work involved in getting to this point seem all, undeniably, worthwhile.

Anyone who approaced the farmhouse on a day where bread was baking was almost overcome by the wonderful aroma. They would come to the kitchen, sit down at the table, chat with Mother and sip on coffee or milk while they waited, patiently, for a slice of the cooling, delicious home made bread.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Close Call ...

It was early summer on the farm and the fruit trees were green and laden with the fragrant blooms that would soon become tasty treats. The barnyard was messy after an early morning rain and I was excited to be going to the barn with my Father. The early morning was my favourite time, before anyone else was awake. Spending time with Father in the barn, in the gardens, really anywhere was wonderful for me. I was the baby of the family and the only girl. He never said much but he always had a little smile for me and my contentedness comes from him; of that, I am sure.

This morning was like many others. Bootsie, the Collie cow dog had rounded up the cows for milking and they were filing into the barn, one by one. My station was the centre aisle, in front of the cows faces as they stood in their stanchions. That is where they put their heads between two wooden posts and one moved over towards the other to latch around their necks so they would be tied as they were milked. Father latched them starting from the back of the barn to the doorway. But, in the third spot from the door he came to a very old cow that had been in his herd for the longest time and he scratched her head and said "not you bossy! you can stand free because you know your job is not to move and to eat your hay in front of you". Some of the younger cows needed calming down and needed the security of the latched stanchion. All was as it should be - I was playing in the center aisle, telling my stories to the big black and white faces that mooed, and stared and chewed. It was heaven.

Once the cows were secure, Father was just about to begin the milking process when a huge commotion on his side of the barn startled me - he was shouting , the younger cows were swaying and dancing from side to side in fear. This was not at all what it was usually like - usually milking time was calm and peaceful, the cats mewed for milk, the cows munched on their hay and I played where it was safe for me to be. I ran over to peer through the cows and was horrified to see that the big bull had come into the barn, nostrils flaring, pushing and screaming at the tied cows. He had been locked in another paddock, away from the cows and the milking. He had broken free. He was massive - his head was as big as my Father's chest, and my Father was a very big man in his younger day. He had huge, sharp horns and a big shiny ring in his nose. He stomped and snorted and made the most horrifying sounds. I was scared.

Father had hold of his horns, the cows were stomping and swaying in their stancions - all except old Bossy. She was eating her hay and standing very still watching the calamity as it unfolded. All of a sudden Father lost his grip on the bull's horns and his balance and the bull backed up to take a run at him with horns lowered, aimed at his midsection. I was screaming with fear. No one could hear us. Just as the bull was about to plunge a horn into my Father , as he was clambering for a better position and foothold, Bossy backed out of her stall and with her teeth bared, grabbed the bull by the tail, bit down hard and pulled backwards, slowly taking one... two... then three steps back. The bull was so surprised that, as he turned to see who was inflicting such pain on him, Father was able to grab hold of the ring in his nose, give it a twist and get the huge, angry beast under control.

As Father led the bull to a stall in the other barn, I watched Bossy put herself back in her place for milking and continue her eating. She waited patiently for her turn to be milked. I waited for Fathers safe return to us. She was a favourite cow of Fathers always, before and after she saved his life that chilly morning.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Pigs in the Pen and Peter's Pants

When I was a little girl I lived on a farm with many animals, barns and sheds and beautiful forests. I lived there with four older brothers and my mother and father. One beautiful, sunny day Peter, Christian and I were walking through the barnyard and we stopped at the Pigpen. Father had just "slopped" the pigs - that is giving them their breakfast of sweet feed, potato peelings, carrot peelings and something very watery that I have no idea what it was. We decided it would be fun to stop and sit on the fence and watch the pigs have their breakfast. In the pigpen was a mother pig - a sow - and her 8 little piglets and the sow's sister. We were never allowed to name the pigs but the mother looked like a Hazel and her sister, a Bertha...

Father had moved on to the main barn to milk the cows and he was well out of earshot from us. We were laughing at the little piglets scurrying and pushing to get at the trough and the slop...they were snorting and grunting and generally making lots of noise... We laughed so hard that Peter slipped off the fence and into the Pigpen! One thing to be aware of is that when sows are feeding it is no time to be near them because they can mistake you for dinner! In a split second Hazel had grabbed Peter's pantleg with her snout and was pulling ! We were scared and I was screaming "Get out of there!" Peter was losing his balance and just when he was about to fall down and be part of a pigs breakfast Christian swooped in, one hand on the fence, and grabbed him by the collar and yanked him up! However, Hazel was not letting go of Peter's pantleg and the more Christian pulled , the more she held fast. Christian was very stubborn and he gave a big yank that left he and Peter tumbling to the other side of the Pigpen fence on safe ground. Hazel was upset and when I looked back at Peter and Christian lying in safety on the ground I saw something very funny! Peter had lost his pants to the Pigpen and Hazel!

We were relieved! Whew! Because I was the youngest and should not have been so near the Pigpen Christian said "Peter, we have to tell Mother that you threw your pants in to Hazel and Bertha otherwise she will be upset that Christina was with us for such a calamity!" And that is how Peter lost his pants to the Pigpen.